Category Archives: Inspiration

Technical Insights from “Not Far from Home” #24

La Boheme and the influence of music…

My father was a classically trained baritone who sang in many choral groups that performed the works of Schubert, Brahms, Palestrina, as well as many other early gospel and early church composers.  As a child, numerous Sundays afternoons were spent at concerts soaking in the harmonies of these great works. These experiences have formed many of my sensitivities today.  As I search and strive to build compositions in my work, often I reflect on what I have taken in musically and find myself asking as the sound weaves its way through my being, “What would that feeling or sensation I am receiving from the musical harmony look like in paint”?  So the Journey begins….

This work, “LaBoheme”, inspired by Giacomo Puccini’s opera by the same title, is a tribute to how God has inspired me through music and the power that is contained within it.

Through the years, many have commented on the music that is playing in the studio and have asked for a list of some of the works.  The following are some of my favorites that have carried many inspirations. (The list is only partial at best.  Listed are only my favorite albums or songs of each artist, but often all of their work is greatly moving).

               Artist/Composer                               Album or Song

  • Ralph Vaughn Williams         Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis
  • William Ackerman                  Conferring with the Moon
  • Arvo Part                                  Te Deum
  • John Rutter                              Requiem
  • Vassilis Tsabropoulos            Chants, Hymns and Dances
  • Giacomo Puccini                      (All of his Operas)
  • Josh Groban                             Mi Mancherai
  • Connie Dover                           The Wishing Well
  • Allison Krauss                          A Hundred Miles or More
  • Henryk Gorecki                        Symphony #3
  • Patrick Cassidy                         Irish Film Orchestra  (Famine Theme)
  • Itzhak Perlman                         Theme from Schindler’s List (John Williams)
  • Yo Yo Ma                                   The Music of Ennio Morricone
  • Eleni Karaindrou                      The Weeping Meadow
  • Fernando Ortega                       The Shadow of Your Wings
  • Dave Gerhartz                            Hear You Call
  • Hayley Westenra                       Quanta Qualia
  • Rodrigo                                       Concerto De Aranjuez
  • Joshua Bell                                 Romance of the Vioin
  • Loreena McKennitt                   Nights From the Alhambra
  • Nightnoise                                  A Different Shore
  • Oscar Petersen                           Night Train
  • Over the Rhine                           Happy to Be So
  • John O’Conor                              15 Nocturnes
  • Sarah McLachlan                        Afterglow
  • Secret Garden                             White Stones
  • Sons of Korah                             Shelter
  • The Tallis Scholars                    Lamenta
  • Van Morrison                             Poetic Champions Compose
  • Gabriel Faure                             Requiem

This is a sampling of my favorites…I did not include many of the more well known classical composers, of course, they would be on the list too.

I’d love to hear some of your favorites too…

Thanks and Enjoy!

Technical Insights from “Not Far from Home” #18

The Passage

As a visual artist, I am continually challenged with the idea of what I am to say with the language and medium I have been given.  Most often in my case, the simple and profound message of hope as it points to our Creator through “the beautiful” is more than sufficient and provides all I that I wish to say with most subjects. In other words, the fact that I am struck by the simple elegance of a line in nature, or the moving harmony of two or more colors dancing together are more than enough reasons to record them and provide ample material for a work of great meaning.  However, there have been instances when I have been inspired to include an overarching narrative to depict an emotion or tell a story.  This painting “The Passage”, page 123, was one of those for me.

The inspiration for this work came in a vision of the completed painting that flashed in my mind as I lay in bed ready to retire for the day.  Just weeks earlier, during a time of great sadness, I had the privilege of being with my father as he breathed his last breath and lost the battle from a relatively short illness.  This moment of profound loss was also one of the more sacred times in my life.  As I witnessed his passing, I could not help but wonder how we are transported to the next realm and what his journey may have looked like.  I, in no way mean to conclude that this image has any historical accuracy, is substantiated by scripture, or is what our experience will look like.  I was simply following the inspiration and seeing it through.  What I am certain of is the great hope of eternal life we have through our Lord and I stand on that as I move ahead.

These following passages have always given me great comfort and offer such assurance.

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

John 11:25

I know that my redeemer lives,
and that in the end he will stand on the earth.
And after my skin has been destroyed,
yet in my flesh I will see God;
I myself will see him
with my own eyes—I, and not another.

Job 19:25

As to the execution of this work, various studies were completed on location of the model in twilight light on the shores of a river.  As you can see in the study, not much attention was paid to detail or proper drawing as the light was fleeting fast.  In this case, it was only important to capture accurate values and color relationships to translate the effect of light in the finished piece.  Later in the studio, I then transposed the key to create the desired lighting to better depict the mood.  Finally, a sketch was created one quarter size to work out the harmonies and final design before the finished canvas was begun.

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Technical Insights from “Not Far from Home” #15

“Bring on the Wonder,”

Over the years many have asked, “Where do you get all of your ideas for paintings”, or, “Is it hard to constantly come up with fresh concepts”.  I have found that if I simply live and soak in the world around me, there is ample visual stimulus to spark what I need for a composition. The problem more often is how to distill all of the input into something I can wrap my mind around to utilize.

One example of how a painting began with the simplest of inspiration is found in the work, “A Light in the Darkness”, page 156 in “Not Far from Home”.

As I was walking to the studio one day, the branch of a cottonwood tree had fallen on the path that I trod.  As anybody would, I picked it up to toss it aside but then noticed the amazing harmony of the muted violets and ochres interplaying on the leaves.  This stopped me long enough to further observe the spellbinding rhythm of line created by the leaf stems that wove my eye in and around the branch. It was then that my mind made the connection that this may be useful in a painting or may serve as a foil to set a model against.  So instead of tossing it aside, it made its way to the model stand and I began to assemble the composition around this element.

It was important to build the design with elements that worked with and not against the aspects of the original inspiration. For instance, it was the subtle dance of color between violet and yellow that first caught my eye, so why would I add all kinds of other color influences that would dilute or distract from this subtle harmony.  In terms of rhythm of line, it was important to choose lines that echoed the branch and did not fight against the swing of line.

Having mentioned how this work came about with some ease and seeming happenstance, I am fully aware of how it is not always easy to see the world with the wonder of a child to pick up on the nuances of line, harmony, design, etc…  For a period of time after my father passed away, I was numbed to the beauty and couldn’t find joy in the simplest of things. Thankfully prayer and time has brought back that sense wonder. I found that asking God to open my eyes anew helped to see again as a child. I do not share this to be sanctimonious, but simply to tell my story and share the struggle.  The lyrics of Sarah McLachlan’s “Bring on the Wonder” so poignantly illustrate my heart’s cry during this time.  “Bring on the wonder, bring on the song, I pushed you down deep in my soul for too long…”  How refreshing to break through.

I wish you great joy as you find the inspiration that will lead to your next great work!

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Technical Insights from “Not Far from Home” #14

Discouragement and “Forgiven”

Have you ever had a day when you were not sure that what you were doing had any meaning?  Or had the feeling that in light of all the world events, this practice of moving colored mud around a canvas may be overwhelmingly trivial.

I was having “one of those days” when I began this work, “Forgiven”.  I am grateful to have been given the energy to push through the discouragement of the moment, because as I began the preliminary drawing on the canvas and the charcoal followed the line of her skull, I was immediately exhilarated with a sense that I was exactly where I needed to be, doing precisely what I had been made for.  The simple act of mimicking the rhythmic and mathematical line of this Egyptian woman’s head created such a sensation…amazing.  I truly believe our Creator had this reaction in mind when our world was knit together. (Not just for me specifically or for artists in general, but for all who respond to His calling, whatever it may be).  For me, this changes everything.

For me it means that investing my time to study beauty and recording it for others to see in a fresh way has tremendous meaning.  This may be an obvious no-brainer to most, but for some reason I need to be reminded of this from time to time.

Discouragement can be a wicked taskmaster, but I find that if when facing it, I simply put myself in the position to be inspired, it will surely dissipate.  And what exactly do I mean by “putting myself in the position to be inspired”. For me, it is simply hiring a model and watching the beauty unfold as the light falls upon it.  Unfortunately, left to my own devices, this does not always happen on its own as it seems at times I would rather mope than be fruitful.  Fortunately, my wife Jennifer then gently reminds me to hire a model and allow myself to be moved… (thanks Jen).

On this week of Thanksgiving in America, among many other things, I am grateful to our Maker for the inspirations I have received and for His endless mercy and undeserved grace as I stumble my way through this life.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Technical Insights from “Not Far from Home” #12

Inspiration and “Goodnight Moon”

Inspiration comes in many ways, through different sensory stimuli, and often when I least expect it . The first inkling of inspiration for “Goodnight Moon”, (page 72 from Not Far from Home),  came while reading a children’s book with the same title to our oldest son Nicolai.

What struck me in particular about the illustration on the last page of the book was that the night sky glowed more luminous than the room interior. This effect of light obviously happens in real life as well, but  it wasn’t until I saw it rendered this way that my interest was piqued. My painting in no way resembled the illustration that birthed this composition, but simply was the catalyst to get me started on a direction. With the singular goal of having the night sky brighter than the interior, I worked with the model and existing studio accessories to develop this idea.  Also, to achieve the nocturnal aspect I desired, several studies were made of the night sky.  I was careful to maintain a very simple palette and was also intentional about repeating the color of the night sky throughout the painting.
I am often surprised where the thread of inspiration takes me, particularly when the initial spark has such obscure beginnings. Clearly, that is one part of the process of painting that keeps the excitement alive and so fresh.
So live life and don’t be afraid to follow a lead of inspiration, no matter how unlikely its source.

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Technical Insights from “Not Far from Home” #7

This is the seventh  installment from the series of posts that will describe my thoughts and  technical insights from selected works included in our newly released book, “Not Far from Home”….Enjoy!

Inspiration and obedience…

Have you ever had the feeling that you needed to be painting a subject more grandiose than what lay presently before you in its simple, sensitive beauty.  I need to confess that I have and am amazed at my thick-headedness as I have ignored the profound, staggering elegance of the subject right before my eyes in hopes to find something “more important”.

I have found this hubris humbling as I have tried to deny the inspiration that has been given, picking and choosing, trying to squelch the “insignificant” ones to find a more profound “storyline”.  In the temptation to “tell a lofty story” in the literal sense with the subject, I have overlooked the grander message that the simple beauty is conveying.

The “Visit”, as Canadian composer Loreena McKennitt refers to the inspiration, should not be ignored.  I truly believe that it was given for a clear purpose and that my best works were completed when I have followed the initial spark.

I do not say this to advocate a lazy approach in looking for a subject that moves us deeply or to shirk the responsibility of developing more complex compositions, but too often I have let the temptation to paint something “profound and important” block the true inspiration God has given in the twist of a branch or the ever so subtle shift from red to green in the face of the model.

Certainly we should continue to strive toward greater heights as we develop our artistic abilities in whatever direction that leads us, but I for one, need to “obey”, for lack of a better word, and proceed as directed.  My greatest joy in painting has followed when I have.

In my opinion, no profounder message could have been told than that of which these cedar trees expressed.

My job was to absorb the beauty, convey the message and rejoice…

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Not Far from Home” 

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